Teaching Kids to Get Stuck Into Their Problems

Why did I research this?

I’m bored of hearing myself say, “Who had it first?” “Share with your brother” and “If you can’t sort it out I’m going to give these toys away to some other children.”

Am I not the only one who hears “I want that toy!”  “I had that first!”  “Give it back!”  “But I wanted that.”?  Perhaps this problem is only common in my household. Either way, I was wondering, surely there is a different script out there so I don’t have to hear myself saying the same old ineffective lines every other day.
What did I find out?
As parents, we can do something different.  We can teach children to think about the problems they face just by changing the way we respond to their problems. As children learn to think about their thinking, they learn to solve their own problems.  This looks and sounds like this:

  1. Give empathy – “That’s annoying.” or “That sounds frustrating.”
  2. Encourage problem solving – “Is there anything you can do to solve this problem for both of you?”
  3. Wait
  4. Offer help –  “I have some ideas.  If you need some let me know.”
  5. Give ideas (when asked) – “You could try these ideas: 1. Listen to your music while you are waiting, 2. Ask for it politely, 3. Trade something for it, and 4. Ask him how long till you have a turn.  5. Help me with my jobs, 6. Make up a game where you both can play with the toy.  It’s up to you which one you choose.  Let me know if you need more help.”
  6. Wait and offer more help if asked for it.
I do this a lot now and so my oldest son knows to ask for the ideas but in the beginning he would ask me to get a toy back for him or ask me to tell my youngest son to share.  In these instances I insisted he try each idea himself first and each time he was able to solve the problem.  This had a positive effect and assisted in many scenarios as he grew confident in his abilities to try solving his problems before asking me.

We have had the problem of my three year old repeatedly responding to my son’s attempts at problem solving with “NO.NO.NO” or ignoring him completely. This is irritating for us all and has required us to think laterally to assist in problem solving with a three year old that is searching for power. Some ideas for this have been “1. Wait till he has finished, 2. Start playing a fun game with your brother, 3 pretend you are not interested in the toy.”

If my 6 year old is irritable he will criticize every idea I give him. I feel irritated about this but tolerate it as I know sometimes I just want a whinge and to be annoyed too. I tell him that it’s actually Ok if he feels irritable, along with the fact that he can be a problem solver or remain irritated and frustrated.

How is this useful?

  • By hearing a variety of alternatives to solving problems, children learn to think.
  • Thinking and discovering why some outcomes are more effective than others will give your child practice in solving challenging or annoying situations.
  • Increasing thinking and learning is fulfilling to the child and it means you get to go back to reading your magazine (yeah right!).

~ SM

Crary. E (1996). I want it. The United States of America: Parenting Press.